The most common business pressures are associated with peak trading periods. New staff will come into the business on a temporary basis but ideally you want the most trained, most expensive resource handling the most challenging, greatest-contributing activities. Rather than splitting everything on a proportional basis you want to separate out the mundane non-core activity so that new or external staff can do it and leave the core activities to you. This takes some planning. In contact centre terms are you able to separate the key customers from the rest? If everything comes into a central post room how can you easily identify the contents without a big sorting activity? A little preparation in advance maximises your choices when it comes to peak.
- Use of non-geographic telephone numbers. Non-geographic telephone numbers (0800, 0844, 0845 etc.) lift the routing of telephone calls from your telephone switch into the network. Core activity can be separated from non-core through the number dialled, PIN number access, calling number identification or IVR selection.
- Using Freepost addresses. This is the postal equivalent of the non-geographic phone number. Different types of post can be routed to different locations rather than a single central post room.
- Using pre-formatted email. Many websites offer customer contact via email but just capture the customer’s email address and content of their query. By formatting the query with customer number and the nature of the query from a drop-down selection the emails can be routed to different mail boxes without the customer being aware.
- Having pre-printed stationery. This may seem like an unnecessary expense but it allows easy identification of forms (which often involve orders or application forms) without the envelope having to be opened. Cost of processing is affected by the number of times correspondence needs to be handled and the amount of technology which can be applied.
- Creating escalation routes. Thinking in advance about where escalated or misrouted phone calls, emails and correspondence should be sent can pay big dividends. Think about setting up escalation email addresses and contact centre telephone numbers to route the traffic through.
Regardless of whether you are considering outsourcing or not these are important things to understand. Under pressure these are the very things you need to make sure work smoothly for business survival through peak trading periods.
This may sound like a really obvious question at first glance but all is not as it seems. You have to take the time to understand volumes. Over the years we have learnt a lot about how to gather the information we need and how to get to the data underneath the emotion. Peaks are most definitely in the eye of the beholder.
There is a real practical reason to discriminate between a predictable peak and an unpredictable surge. While a mail order business can ramp up in preparation for an absolute increase in volumes for Christmas, the emergency services can never prepare for the surge in communications associated with a major incident. From a planning perspective the two are quite different. However…
Some “surges” are predictable.
The cause of the surge is the key. There are weather-related businesses which experience large increases in volumes. Windscreen repair firms will get more callouts when the frosts start to hit. Gardening supply companies will see a real upturn when the first sunny weekend of the year arrives. Of course, if we could predict the weather with any degree of accuracy we would be the champions in the weather forecasting industry. What we can take from it is the overall pattern even though we can’t pinpoint the exact timing. This allows planners to prepare contingencies.
Business peaks are not contact centre peaks
Sometimes customers confuse busy trading periods with peaks. Seeing other parts of the business recruit and anxiety levels rising (both for customers and in-house) can ‘feel’ busier than it really is. Warehouses will be buying stock and busily storing it for a long time before the orders start coming in. It can be easy to fall into the trap of over-recruiting and, because nothing went wrong as a result, carry that model forward next year.
This is just a basic insight into the peaks and troughs experienced in contact centres, how you manage them will help set you apart from competitors.
Read more to find out about peaks and how to manage them effectively.
Recruiting for a contact centre can be a difficult task; the following points look at the best ways to tackle the process and how to hold a successful assessment centre.
1. Define your ideal employee
Will the right person just appear? What if the right person appears but they can’t work the hours you need them to? Will you be willing to change your requirements? What if the person is the right candidate but doesn’t have any experience? Are you going to be able to spend the time developing them or do you need someone who can hit the ground running? Define your own needs first before running the assessment day; you can then make the choice of the right candidates that suit your company.
2. Get the number right
How many people should you invite to an assessment day? Should it equal the number of available job opportunities? Of course not! On the day someone will always drop out, they’ve got another job, changed their minds or have some other reason they just can’t make it. So you are already one person down. Then there will be those who sadly aren’t the right fit, don’t have the right skills. How many are you really left with? If you need to fill roles quickly then you might be stuck making choices based on need rather than then want.
Why do observations matter? We always look for candidates who display the right skills and behaviour and this can be seen better when the candidates are interacting with others. Remember it isn’t always what they say; it’s how they say it that counts.
4. Group tasks
You need to see how a candidate reacts in a group situation to allow you to see how they will handle different situations. Whether that is with a customer or with colleagues, it will test their reasoning skills and how they handle a pressured situation.
5. Personality is key
When recruiting you need to understand how an employee’s personality can be vital to a job role. The loudest person in the room may be the most confident, and although confidence is required when working on the telephone, it’s not the only personality trait required. A quieter person will have a well-thought out and reasoned idea that can be delivered in a calm and measured fashion. Think about the service you want to deliver to your customer and what personality traits are important to you.
When running an assessment day, don’t underestimate the importance of planning. We hope these pointers will help you throughout your recruitment process, for any more information about working with a successful contact centre contact PCMS
If you aren’t used to service review meetings with your existing contact centre provider you need to get used to them. Contact centre service review meetings are the backbone of the service and should give you the information you need to know about how the service is being run. If in doubt, here are four questions to questions to ask to get you started.
1. What can be improved?
Don’t be put off by this question a service can always be improved. Within the PCMS contact centre we have ISO 9001 accreditation and one of the cornerstones of this is continuous improvement. This means we are always looking for methods to improve our services in some way. What actions is your contact centre taking to improve your service?
2. Can I visit?
Relationships with your service provider will always be strengthened if you and they can put faces to names. How are they finding the service? What surprises have they had? Visit them and get to know the team.
3. Can I listen to calls?
You might be surprised what you learn from this. Listening to contact centre calls will help you understand exactly what service is being delivered to your customers, the type of query your customer’s are calling with and the challenges your agents and customers face.
4. Do our strategies match?
This one definitely needs to be reviewed on a regular basis. If your contact centre doesn’t know what your strategies are as a business how can you be certain your service delivery matches your needs? For example your strategy could be to increase sales; if the contact centre isn’t aware of this you could be missing out on vital income streams.
The above questions should give you an initial insight into the service being provided by your contact centre.
To discuss how a successful relationship with your outsourced contact centre can transform your business, call PCMS on +44 (0)24 7669 4455
The traditional view of outsourced contact centres is they offer economies of scale and long term strategic partnerships. There are many examples of successful relationships between businesses and outsource providers, that have made significant business impact for companies around the world.
For many who are considering outsourcing for the first time, the well-established large contact centre can seem a long way from the day-to-day reality. As a gateway into using outsourcers, UK businesses are realising that contact centre outsourcing can serve a pragmatic purpose and provide a fantastic return on investment in the short term. These examples take advantage of inherent benefits of outsourcers in tackling everyday problems.
- A challenge for in-house contact centres can be the inertia from having done the same things for years. Most people resist change; especially if it affects their working patterns or tests their knowledge and takes them out of their comfort zone. Outsourcers on the other hand thrive on change and making things happen. Dealing with changing consumer behaviours, signposting them to the preferred channels, and educating them so they use them again takes a lot of effort. The customer service world on the other side of the change may be more efficient. It will also be different and this can cause internal departments to dig their heels in and find ways of slowing down progress. When change has to happen it often takes an outsourcer to drive it through.
- Launching new products and services is risky and challenging. It can feel like a leap into the unknown. Launching a new website seems straightforward but without knowing what customers will want to discuss as a result it can be difficult to forecast and to train contact centre advisors accordingly. Using an outsourcer who has done it all before and brings their expertise to the table can be a great way of avoiding making the classic mistakes. Some organisations will use contact centre outsourcers for a finite period of time – almost like a scouting mission – to launch and bed in a new service before bringing it back in-house when the dust has settled.
- People like to win and competition drives up performance in all walks of life. One application of outsourcing is to set up a competitor for the internal contact centre which may not otherwise have the opportunity to compete. In pursuit of performance the champion-challenger encourages innovation and engenders flexibility and agility in both parties.
- Resistance to change also applies to working patterns. Although customer demand may require extended opening times and weekend opening it can be very challenging, unreliable and very expensive to persuade in-house contact centres to fill the gap. Outsourcers have the reverse problem – they already have staff covering the shifts but are looking for a partner to help make them more efficient. The same may be true for short term peaks. Outsourcers have a range of customers who have different peak seasons and times of day. Most retailers will have a steady build up through to Christmas, holiday and furniture companies will peak immediately afterwards. Others may have a very distinctive call arrival pattern each day with a huge skew towards early morning, lunchtime or early evening. While recruiting and administering a range of shift patterns and training for a short period of time may be a daunting challenge, it may be significantly easier for an outsourcer who aggregates the demands for different clients.
- Setting up or managing your own contact centre is not cheap. The technology can make all the difference to productivity but it can cost a lot. Licences for hundreds of users and regular upgrades to latest versions tend to have a sizeable price tag. The changes demand bigger networks, integration and reintegration with other systems and a support infrastructure. Physical space can be a challenge at some times of year and then not be an issue for the next few months. Little wonder companies turn to outsourcers to overcome the large capital investment projects – after all they’ve already made the investment and are looking for ways to get a return on their investment.
Outsourcing doesn’t need to be a major project, contact PCMS to find out how it can be a highly effective tactical tool to solve some of the difficult everyday problems. Call us on +44(0)24 7669 4455 or email email@example.com
After receiving another call requesting a service we just won’t, rather than don’t, deliver I started to think about the things we won’t do in the PCMS contact centre and the reasons why.
- Voice messages – sending recorded voice messages out to a wide number of prospects helps to reach a mass market but sending the messages out is not the right option for us. We work with customers who have bespoke needs and requirements rather than mass market commission only models.
- IVR – now don’t get me wrong, I love the IVR and it is without doubt a contact centre staple. It is a great tool – when used correctly. We won’t have an IVR which asks callers to go through lots of options, only to get through to a recorded message and then, in extreme cases, cuts you off.
- Robotics – we don’t employ robots, we employ people. The people in our contact centre like to talk to other people. Are calls are not overly scripted to allow our contact centre agents the opportunity to form relationships and talk to callers the way they wish to be spoken to.
- Ignore feedback – ignored feedback is worthless; do it at your peril. In the PCMS contact centre we always strive to improve our services year on year. How do we know when we are doing a good job? Our callers tell us. If callers are telling us we are doing a good job then what can we do to make that even better?
- Ignore what’s happening today – forecasting is power. Forecasting tells us what is going to happen. So many contact centres ignore the results. Ask yourself, did the forecasting work? Were volumes under or over forecast? If so why?
After years of experience of running a successful contact centre operation, PCMS have been able to refine the best services to suit the needs of our existing and future customers. There are many services that we do offer in a flexible way to suit your business needs. So contact us today to find out more or click here to get a better understanding of what services we can offer you.
Too often contact centres are stuck on the side of core activity – passed between marketing and operations. With the growth of eCommerce and Social Media it’s a good time to re-evaluate the role of the contact centre and how it integrates and contributes to the core business.
1. Opening hours
There was a time when just having a contact centre was a revolution. Too many have never moved since then. It is surprising just how few contact centres match the opening times of the stores and, more importantly, match customer expectation. We selected ten high street retailers at random. Only 4 out of 10 were open after 6pm on weekdays and only half were available at weekends at all. This doesn’t match the expectation of customers who can still be buying things at Bluewater, Oxford Street and Brent Cross on weekday evenings and almost anywhere at a weekend. The customer offer and the customer expectation have moved away from customer service delivery…even before we take eCommerce into consideration. Increasingly we are very busy during the day and have a commute after work. Ultimately, the consequence is that we have to make time in our days to contact customer services rather than being able to do it at our own leisure before or after work.
Not being open at the times when your customer’s need you causes frustration and disappointment. If you can’t provide a way of delivering the service through the existing team you should consider outsourcing to bridge the gap. It is fundamental in providing customers with a great service and, ultimately, generating more sales. These days, for consumer customer service, 8am to 8pm weekdays and 9am to 5pm at weekends is a minimum.
All retailers have differing seasonal needs. For many Christmas is the time to cash in and finish the year on a high. For some businesses which offer gifts the peaks are particularly high. Charities have annual campaigns and, sadly, emergencies can’t be predicted. This summer the World Cup is bound to impact some businesses. Of course it is expensive to recruit and train staff in the contact centre for a short period of time but so is the cost of missing out on the peak opportunity. Of course, customers with money to spend who aren’t answered will just go elsewhere to spend their money and customers who want to complain will be angrier and more demanding. The backlogs of email will build and repeat callers will clog the phone lines. The cost of doing the job well is far less than the cost of not planning to deliver at peak time. Once again, if the cost of providing cover and the disruption to core business is too great, outsourcers provide an excellent alternative.
3. Matching the retail experience
The best retail customer service reflects the store experience and vice versa. Retailers spend millions on training store staff to look after customers in a way which reflects the brand. Often this valuable resource is not passed on to the contact centre staff. It may not seem relevant but the way that you would expect a customer to be treated within the store should be replicated wherever possible with all channels.
Similarly the contact centre needs to know the products. The contact centre needs to test drive the car, taste the chocolate, be able to see the stitching on the jacket and handle the pressure washer. They need to be able to explain solutions to customers who will have the product in hand or help them to visualise the product they can only see a picture of online. The consequence of not doing so is an increase in returned products, missed sales opportunities or complex customer services cases. The positive side of this is a trusted and knowledgeable team able to build lasting, trusting relationships with customers – promoting loyalty and advocacy.
An integrated contact centre provides valuable information to the rest of the business and uses data provided to enhance customer contact. Ultimately contact centres are about people but they need to be supported with the right tools. The contact centre advisors need information about customer history, previous contacts, and segmentation of the customer. They need the information to make sure that they can help wherever possible and to discuss issues in the context of the customer’s previous experience. Of course the contact centre is also a superb source of market research. They will often hear about problems with particular products, competitor activity or challenges in a store before anyone else. Often the technical challenge is more about integration than just the latest sparkly piece of software. Not having the skills within your existing IT team is no excuse and neither is the price tag. If this isn’t currently part of the skillset you need to find a partner with knowhow. One by-product may be that the information generated by and required by the contact centre is just as relevant to Point of Sale and eCommerce success.
If you are a retailer that wants to understand the benefits of an integrated contact centre and how it can contribute to the core business, contact PCMS’ Call Centre for further information.
Call us on +44(0)24 7669 4455 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
For us outsourcing a contact centre is not a one size fits all model. At PCMS, we specifically work with contact centre customers who want, and need, something different within the retail market place. This can mean a number of contact centre outsourcing options are utilised to provide the right service for the customer. Here are just some of the examples available:
- Weekend out of hours cover – here a customer will agree a time for cover to commence at PCMS and switchover from their services to our weekend cover happens automatically.
- Out of hours – the retail industry demands a number of contact centres to increase their opening hours to match the hours of customers shopping online. If the number of calls you are receiving requires additional opening hours but the staff costs outweigh this, then contact centre out of hours outsourcing could be for you.
- Outbound only – when you hear of contact centre outsourcing most people will assume this means outsourcing all of your customer services operations. This is not necessarily the case. Our contact centre customers have the option of outsourcing all of their contact centre services or just parts of the service. Outbound calling is a specialist skill and does need the right framework for this to be successful. We have a large telesales team at PCMS with a vast amount of experience.
- Proof of concept modelling – sometimes it can be difficult to try something new in an established environment. Outsourcing is a good way to test something, adjust it so it works better and then evaluate whether it would be better kept outsourced or brought in-house.
- Overflow – when peaks arrive they sometimes reveal some bottlenecks in the system. For retailers this can mean missed opportunities unless some additional flexibility is established. Outsourcing through the peak periods is a good way to find extra seats, licences, trained advisors and management when it is really needed. Having an overflow capability can then lead on to providing business continuity support and a useful test bed for new services.
- Campaigns – marketing campaigns, sales campaigns or even just the contact centre campaigns will put an extra strain on your resources. Perhaps you have a sales team and need additional appointments or you have a product recall and need additional support. Within the PCMS contact centre we are sure to be able to meet your needs.
- Administration – this is an often forgotten aspect of contact centre outsourcing. Processing applications, managing complaints, replying to emails, replying to white mail are all specialist skills which are often not readily available. At PCMS, we have dedicated administration teams who have the right skills to provide these services.
Across the PCMS contact centre we have a wide range of outsourcing options each built to suit our customer’s requirements. Carry on reading about the wide range of options available to you by clicking here.
There are many reasons to outsource and few of the reasons are just about saving money. Here are five more interesting reasons to choose outsourcing:
- Rent an expert. Outsourcers have some inherent advantages over an in-house contact centre. Although many of your own staff will have worked elsewhere they will generally not have the range of experience with other industries, processes, and technology. A good outsourcing partner acts as a consultant as well as a service provider. You could evolve to the same levels of knowledge but it takes time and along the way you run the risk of the pitfalls the experts can avoid.
- The “Skunkworks”. Often it can be difficult to break out of the bureaucracy and traditional ways of doing things in-house. There are often policies and fear of setting precedents which constrain what can be done easily. Using an outsourcer can be a great way of setting up the “business you would like to be” in a safe environment. This can be a great way of delivering organisational change or setting up a new service.
- Managing the peaks. There are peak hours and seasonality in most contact profiles. Services such as DRTV, retail, florists, anything with a billing cycle, utilities, windscreens and breakdown services, new car sales, recalls, new product launches….the list goes on. The challenge is in accurately forecasting what the impact is likely to be and then assessing whether you can recruit and train enough people, have enough licences, desks etc. Peaks are great for sales but can be extremely stressful and costly in capital expenditure. All this for something that may only last for a couple of months or even a couple of days. Outsourcing for peaks is a great way of increasing capacity and potentially developing a disaster recovery solution at the same time.
- Creating a competition. Sales people are competitive by nature but how do you know how well you are really performing? Could technology make a difference? Are incentives having the right impact? You can set up an internal competition between separate teams but it is still bound by the same infrastructure. Setting up an outsourcer as a challenger creates a healthy tension which drives better performance from both parties and encourages innovation.
- Doing the dirty work. In every job there is the mundane, time-consuming but essential work and the exciting, creative stuff that people REALLY want to do. There is also the weekend and evening hours which no-one wants to work but which customers expect. Of course, the rate of pay is set against the most demanding task that an employee is expected to perform but actually, for a lot of the time, people end up doing jobs which should be handled by a lower pay grade. Outsourcing the right tasks allows the higher paid staff to focus on the higher tariff work while the mundane work can be handled efficiently by an outsourced partner.
If you are still not convinced about the benefits of outsourcing, then click here to find out more or call PCMS to talk about the help we could offer you.
One of the common issues we encounter when businesses outsource for the first time is forecasting. It seems that many customer service departments feel unable to forecast inbound work by email and telephone and even believe it is beyond their control. If you can’t forecast you will always struggle to manage workload and it can be an unpleasant experience for customers and employees alike. Sadly though, for many departments, they get so locked into “doing” that they forget the need to plan. This is where we can help.
One of the first things I do is to try and establish a range. What is clear is that the incoming call volume isn’t zero and it is fairly easy to set an upper limit which is so extreme that everyone agrees it is safe. Immediately we have a forecast, however inaccurate, where previously we had nothing. The challenge is then to try and refine that range using the information we have.
The first thing we will look at is any statistics which are available. Ideally we would look for years of history at monthly summary level, 3-6 months at weekly level and one month at interval level. What this allows us to look at is the organic growth or decline of contact volumes, seasonality and the pattern of arrival during the day. Many customers don’t have this and often they can only provide a couple of weeks’ worth of data which they have been able to glean from their IT team. This at least provides a sense check against the previous broad range and allows the pattern within the day to be established.
Of course, often statistics only show the headlines. What they don’t show is how many of the unanswered calls are repeat callers and how many of the emails outstanding have actually resulted in further phone calls. They don’t show the calls which are attempted outside the current opening times. This is where the telephone network can often help. Many carriers these days offer advanced reporting alongside routing of non-geographic telephone numbers. This may allow some visibility of unique callers (whether answered or abandoned). It may also show the calls offered and unanswered in the intervals immediately prior to and after opening times. If the contact centre closes at weekends or Bank Holidays the statistics will show whether customers expected the centre to be open.
Slowly but surely the broad range of forecasting can be sharpened a little through piecing together the information already in place. Performance needs to be measured against the plan though. We often see abandoned calls which are more to do with organisation than staffing numbers. If there is no detailed forecast there is often no detailed staffing plan and so people are working unproductive shifts, are taking breaks at the peak times and email is being ignored. Just by adjusting the shift patterns and the flow of work against the newly revealed interval forecast can make an enormous difference.
One other factor which causes challenges is promotional and seasonal activity. If a company has never run a promotion before how can they possibly forecast how successful it will be? There are major variations for some products depending on what day Valentine’s Day and Christmas Day falls and often the same combination of days and weekends will not have happened for some time. This is where the rest of the business can help. The Marketing Department will have forecasts from the media buyers or advertising agency of expected take-up rates. The buyers will be buying stock against a forecast and the warehouse will be having exactly the same planning challenge. The timings may be different but they all provide some insight into the contact centre forecast.
The final main area of insight is the people currently working within the team. They are the ones who will know by instinct that “we’re busier when the sun shines”, “it goes quieter when the kids are back at school”, “we get a sudden rush at month end”, and “the last week before the new registration plates is really slow”. They may not have the numbers but they give some vital clues on where the risk may be and where to delve a little deeper.
The final stage is Review. We can then convert all the statistics, hunches, trends and ideas into a forecast and show the forecast to our client. When it is written in black and white a whole new conversation begins over the variations in the forecast and the opportunity to improve it. Through the process all departments begin talking to each other…a pretty good recipe for success going forward. Importantly there is now a forecast to work to and this is good news for employees and customers alike.
If you have trouble managing the workload in your contact centre, contact PCMS to find out how you can benefit from forecasting.